Why have we sent a mission to asteroid Bennu?

Why have scientists and engineers invested so much time, effort and money into a mission to a nearby asteroid?


NASA’s OSIRIS-REx space probe arrived at asteroid Bennu on 31 December 2018, and is expected to depart in early 2021. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Uni. of Arizona

Asked by Josh Hooper

Bennu is a primordial goldmine

Since the asteroid dates back to the formation of the Solar System, astronomers will turn detective in piecing together clues from the historic organic materials it may contain.

It could fuel future space missions

There is a good chance that Bennu will contain a fuel source, pointing to the possibility of spacecraft using asteroids to ‘gas-up’, letting them travel much further in the future.

There’s an opportunity to practice manoeuvres

Bennu will allow scientists to practice navigating a craft around an asteroid. Since the gravity is low and there’s pressure from sunlight, it will provide ample teaching material for engineers.

Companies are seeking to mine it

With its rich source of minerals, there is a clamour among companies and governments to take advantage of the resources that asteroids have to offer, and they’ll be keenly watching.

It may hit Earth one day

There’s a one in 2,500 chance that Bennu will collide with Earth in the late 22nd century. But by tracking NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex mission as it orbits the asteroid, its path and characteristics can be better measured and predicted.

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